15 October 2009

Character Makes the Plot

Last night, I furiously jotted down notes during my book group's discussion of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Although I avoid reading and watching violence of any kind, I read this book like one possessed. For a couple of days I was addicted to Lisbeth and have thought of her often since then. 

Yes, there is an interesting mystery plot, historical plot, political plot, dramatic action plot, and possibly other ones as well, but what drew me in was Lisbeth's plot and ultimate transformation.

In the group, I asked why? What about this character drew us in so deeply and emotionally, especially since the protagonist has such a flat affect and shares so little of herself emotionally -- her internal landscape is essential bare.

The following are comments made by the other writers and one non-writer in the group (my personal thanks to each of you for contributing):
  • Rarely in literature is there such an unusual female protagonist survivor with special needs (autistic / aspergers) and one who is so violent 
  • She doesn't belly up and lay down and take the abuse inflicted upon her by a flawed system and pathological men. She fights back and wins
  • She is young and strange and smarter and wiser than the men in the story
  • When she is off the page, the story lags. As soon as she appears, the story picks up momentum
  • She has been abandoned by everyone in her life, as a reader I couldn't abandon her, too.
  • She starts out a victim but does not remain a victim
  • Another reason the plot and this character work well together is that it shows good reversal of conflict: a "misfit" wins and the "powerful" loses
  • Her visits to her mother show her humanity
Writers often encourage me to write a book on character to compliment the book I wrote on plot. I always explain that in my mind character is such a key element to plot that it is impossible to separate the two. Blockbuster Plots Pure & Simple is based on the belief that plot is made up of dramatic action that overtime transforms the character (Character Emotional Development) to provide meaning (Thematic Significance). 

The End of the Beginning (1/4) of Lisbeth's inner plot line happens when her new guardian of the state changes the terms (1/4 mark in this book is page 161, merely twenty pages off the actual page count of 181).

At the Crisis (halfway point) for her inner plot, Lisbeth understands no one is going to save her. Only she can save herself and other women like her. In this scene, Larsson both foreshadows what is to come and also gives the character the insight for what is needed for her ultimate transformation. 

In the end, she is able to outwit the villain by standing in her true power. She is able to show her transformed self at the Climax because of the dramatic action that happens to her earlier in the story. 

Thematic significance statement: One person no matter how young or wounded is able with cunning and patience to conquer evil.